China seeks to shape Hong Kong narrative with letter to media

Protests began in June in opposition to proposed legislation easing extraditions from the Asian financial hub to mainland China. (AFP Pic)

BEIJING: China is looking to reshape the global narrative over Hong Kong as months of street protests dominate news agendas around the world.

In a letter sent to senior editors at international media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse, the Chinese Foreign Ministry outlined its account of the protests in the former British colony. Bloomberg News also received the letter.

The letter and supporting documents clock in at a hefty 43 pages and include a timeline of what President Xi Jinping’s government describes as “violent activities that are aimed to trample the rule of law” and have caused “mayhem in Hong Kong.” It cites news articles, largely from Chinese state media, detailing links between “foreign forces” and protesters.

The rhetoric is in line with China’s previous efforts to highlight the city’s chaos, portray the protesters as rioters and blame the “black hand” of the US for fomenting violence amid clashes between demonstrators and police. Protests began in June in opposition to proposed legislation easing extraditions from the Asian financial hub to mainland China and have since widened into a broader movement to secure democratic freedoms promised to the city after the handover from Britain in 1997.

How Months of Protests Have Unfolded in Hong Kong

China’s government is under attack globally on a host of issues, from the Trump administration’s charges of technology theft and currency manipulation to criticism at the United Nations of its crackdown on ethnic Muslim Uighurs. The letter comes ahead of the politically sensitive Oct 1 anniversary of 70 years of rule by the Communist Party, which took power pledging to end foreign influence over Chinese territory.

In each of these cases, the government has sought to finesse the international narrative. In June, it countered the US account of how trade talks broke down between the two countries with a White Paper blaming the US for its “beggar-thy-neighbour unilateralism.” It’s also released reports defending its policies in Xinjiang and began hosting foreign journalists on carefully choreographed tours of detention camps holding Uighurs in the far western region.

In continuing to allege foreign interference in Hong Kong, the Foreign Ministry’s letter details meetings of activists across the world in venues including the Oslo Freedom Forum. It also cites media reports on meetings between US consulate officials and Hong Kong opposition leaders and links the US National Endowment for Democracy to Hong Kong activists.

The letter outlines police responses to protester violence across the US, UK and France and quotes foreign politicians who have called for calm in the city. Among those cited are Singapore’s Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam, and former British parliamentarian George Galloway, who’s known for his staunch opposition to the Iraq war.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Tuesday linked Beijing’s charge of foreign meddling in Hong Kong with similar accusations raised by Russia over US interference in protests there.

“We strongly agree with Russia’s stance” on “illegal protests,” Geng told reporters in Beijing. He said China had “shared interests” with Moscow on “upholding national sovereignty and social stability.”